Arriving into Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas as if he had emanated from the dusty, yellowed mud, Harry Dean Stanton’s Travis Henderson stumbles toward civilisation as a mysterious man of the wild west. Though, instead of donning a cowboy hat, coat and boots, Travis remains a product of the capitalist western world, wearing a dusty suit and a striking red hat. He is the modern nomad, returning to his home to reclaim his old life.
A road movie like no other, Wenders’ distinctly European viewpoint makes his handling of this expressly Texan story unusual, tracking the life of an outwardly tough Texan hero laid low by personal grief. The German filmmaker was well seasoned to the road movie sub-genre, too, directing Alice in the Cities in 1974 and Kings of the Road two years later, though Paris, Texas was distinctly different; raw, powerful and character-led.
Speaking about the genre to Interview Magazine, Wenders said, “Frankly, I didn’t know the genre existed. I must have seen some movies, I think I saw Detour, but I didn’t recognise it as a genre. Of course, I knew a lot of westerns, if there was any precursor to those movies it was the western. But I didn’t know you could make movies while travelling”.
Cancelling out the loud percussion of fierce engines, turbines and motors, Wim Wenders creates a road movie that embraces silence, taking note of Travis’ quiet psychology in spite of the busy freeways that surround him every day. The integrity of his state of mind has been impaired to such an extent that he has become a spectator to his own life, watching old Super-8 home videos to try and capture a morsel of identity. As such, Wenders’ film becomes one of loss and fragmented consciousness, coming together in the fantastical finale that reunites Travis and his wife, Jane.
Finding his wife working at a peep show, after some time of searching, Travis goes into a booth to talk to her, only to discover that the two of them cannot see each other at all. Travis sits in a dark cerulean glow whilst on the phone to Jane in the adjacent room, where she inhabits a strange space of melancholy mirage, surrounded by the idyllic scenery of a typical American home. It’s an ultimate illusion of intimacy, where he can witness the strange window to a yearful past, whilst all she sees on the other side is her own reflection and the shabby exposed insulation of the wall’s foundations.
Reeling off their entire love story, Jane smiles in slow recognition, crying uncontrollably when their self-destructive past is brought up. Frantically, she tries to see through the looking glass after dimming the light on her side of the wall, but Travis can’t see her anymore. She slumps beneath the mirror and speaks in pining monologue, “I walked around for some months talking to you. Now I don’t know what to say. It was easier when I just imagined you”.
So close to each other, yet forever separated by an irreconcilable past, the two speak to themselves in long heartfelt speeches, with the two of them never fully registering the existence of one another. Their conversation is one that transcends reality, operating on an illusory plane, where for Jane, the voice of Travis may as well be that of a spectre from a bygone memory. As Travis quietly departs, he leaves as the modern nomad, riding out of town one last time having bought justice to his wife and child, sacrificing his own life in the process. Leaving the neon-lit fantasy of Houston behind he saddles up into his 1959 Ford Ranchero and turns his back on the potential of his past, a fractured memory that will forever remain an illusion.